What's Tony Thinking

Et Cetera


“Et Cetera” is the title of the chapter we tackled from Francis Spufford’s UnApologetic this week. It follows his chapter on Jesus, “Yeshua.” “Et Cetera” continues the Jesus focus, but is kind of like a series of interesting footnotes.

In Latin “Et cetera” means “And the rest.” Did you know that? I didn’t.

After presenting Jesus in a vivid story form in “Yeshua,” Spufford moves on to touch on the kinds of questions that don’t quite fit story-telling, but which people have about Jesus/ Yeshua. Hence, “Et Cetera.” “And the rest.”

Before I forget, we did tape this session, here is the link. As always, Josh’s opening song is worth the price of admission, actually far more.

One of the big questions is about the “fully God, fully human,” thing. Yes, it defies logic. How can you be 100% of one thing and 100% of another thing all at the same time? It has led to many attempts, from Christian beginnings to the present moment, to unhook the two. Thus some claim Jesus is all God all the time — only pretending to be human. Or all human all the time with the divinity part being dreamed up later by the church.

But it’s the polarity of the two that makes it, and him, compelling. Sort of like a battery. Without both poles — no charge.

Recent efforts to relieve the tension include those like that of “The Jesus Seminar,” which had its heyday say roughly 1990 to 2010. Their claim was that the whole God business was stuck on an unsuspecting Jesus as an after-thought for political reasons. We love that kind of “dark secrets revealed” stuff. The problem with that is it’s not true. Here’s Spufford,

“In the air now, there’s a general feeling that somebody or other in the early church, probably St Paul, retrospectively glued Godhood onto poor Jesus, appropriating what was a perfectly ordinary and un-mysterious career as a Jewish preacher, and using it as a vehicle for weird shit. Jesus goes about encouraging people to be kind and forgiving; then, when he’s safely dead, he gets signed up as the lead of an unlikely cosmic drama he’d have horrified by it he’d ever known about it . . .

“The trouble is that the historical sequence by which we get the story is exactly the other way round. The interpretation [the God/man mixture] came first, before the narratives about him wandering around preaching’ and teaching’.”

Another way that people have tried to manage the strangeness of Jesus and what the Church confesses about him is to put him in the category of “A Great Moral Teacher,” like say Confucius or Socrates. Trouble is so much of what Jesus had to say is not really great moral teaching, i.e. it is not wisdom for a successful, well-rounded, virtuous and sensible life. The disciples ask, for instance, “Master, how many times must we forgive, as many as seven?” To which Jesus answers, “Not seven but seventy times seven,” which sounds less like “great moral teaching” than it does a demand to leave your great moral teachings and moral superiority behind and follow me into the wild.

So in “Et Cetera” Spufford works through the ways that people have tried to fit Jesus to a known frame and category, including the dying god who is regenerated as in various myths, see e.g. Odin.

Underneath it all may be this: the claim that you and I need, saving, that we need a Savior, is just sort of, well, embarrassing. We can manage things, can’t we? We’re good people doing good things — isn’t that what it’s all about?

Here’s a closing bit from Spufford that speaks to me,

“Some people ask nowadays what kind of a religion it is that chooses an instrument of torture for its symbol, as if the cross on churches must represent some kind of endorsement. The answer is: one that takes the existence of suffering seriously.”

Two more weeks to go in our series. Whether in the weekly sessions or by downloading the tapes about 250 people have been taking part in this series. Hope that if you are one of them you have found it enjoyable and worthwhile.


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